GW administrators are in the process of reevaluating their plans for Monumental Celebration following a year of disappointing ticket sales and significant financial losses.
In an effort to lower costs and boost attendance, the University may switch the annual graduate gala from the traditional Union Station location to the less expensive Smithsonian National Museum of American History. The University has put both venues on hold for the event, Vice President for Communications Mike Freedman said. Freedman said the University will likely be able to return the event to Union Station while lowering ticket prices.
“We’ve been able to get a break already on our costs at Union Station,” said Freedman, who also said Monumental costs will be less this year because GW is not planning on renting Union Station’s lower food court level, which was reserved last year in anticipation of higher attendance.
Administrators are focusing their efforts on changes that could be made to boost this year’s attendance after last year’s event drew only 2,300 attendees – a nearly 50 percent decline from 2003. GW officials attributed the attendance drop of 2004 to a $10 increase in ticket prices and the elimination of a reduced-cost “early bird” purchasing option. Last year’s tickets cost $60 for graduates and $70 for guests. Freedman would not discuss GW’s financial losses.
A main component of the current reassessment process is a survey that was distributed on Tuesday to all graduating seniors and graduate students. GW officials intend to use the survey to determine which changes the University can make so that more students will attend the event.
The survey asks graduates to express their opinion on the importance of having a Commencement eve gala; whether it is important that the event be held at Union Station; and the role of ticket prices students’ decision to attend. The survey also asks if students would be interested in purchasing a fixed-price family package that would include dinner at Union Station, and whether graduates would like to continue the tradition of having the event’s dress code as “black-tie optional.”
“The students are going to guide us on how to proceed with this,” Freedman said.
Freedman said he hopes to have all surveys completed before students leave for winter break so that the University can evaluate them and communicate its final decisions early in the spring semester.
Some seniors said they are taking a “wait-and-see” approach before committing to attending Monumental.
“If all of my friends decide to go, then I’ll probably have to go,” senior Marin Gerber said.
“It’s all part of who is going,” added senior Heather Spence, who also said that the final ticket prices “would influence everyone’s decision.”
But some seniors interviewed seemed indifferent about the future of the event.
“I know for a fact that none of my friends would ever go to anything like that,” senior Lindsay Martin said.
Senior Melissa Jenkins said she would not be attending because of the ticket costs.
“My friends and I wouldn’t go because we don’t want to be spending any more money on GW,” she said.
Freedman also said the University is committed to reinstating the “early bird” ticket sales provided that students express enough an interest to continue holding the gala.
“We’re hopeful that even the regular prices are lower than last year’s,” he said.
Freedman also added that the University must strike a balance between cost-cutting and reasonable ticket pricing, noting that the University wants to avoid cheapening the quality of the tradition.
“We want to trim our costs where we can without trimming the value of the event,” he said.
“Ideally, you just want to break even,” he continued. “It’s never our goal to make money … (but) we can’t lose our shirts on the